Even though it’s March and (in Hong Kong) the weather is getting warmer, it’s still winter! I bet my classmates in North America don’t need to be reminded of that. Over the weekend my parents got eight inches of snow, and I was walking around in a sleeveless NBA jersey, shorts, and sandals. Anyways, enough bragging. Another course in my master’s has wrapped up. What did I learn?

I have to say that I went into this course a bit skeptical about the usefulness of the Maker Movement and I am coming out feeling the same way. I’m not sure if this is borne from my own frustrations with my Raspberry Pi (I still haven’t been able to get a keyboard to work with it, all I can do is turn it on) or my valid desire to see these new tools prove themselves sustainable and appropriate for the classroom before I adopt them. I would love to be able to turn my Video Game Console Project into a prototype, but the amount of time and energy it would take is massive. I just don’t have the time to do it right now.

However one element of the Maker Movement that I can support without reservation is the emphasis on inquiry and project-based learning. As a Social Studies teacher I am constantly looking to improve my students’ ability to research and analyze sources. One of the best ways to increase student engagement in research is to design inquiry projects that allow them to research whatever catches their interest and curiosity. My team is continually redesigning our units around authentic inquiry. The most extreme example of this is The Awesome Project, which focuses completely on research and allows students to pick anything at all. I started this project in January and I can’t imagine not having it as a part of my classroom routine.

Another change in my professional practice this winter is that I am much more intentional about the design of my lessons and classroom space. After Week Five I decided to focus my classroom on learning. I’ve reduced clutter and now have new spaces for students to work and to display their learning. I can honestly say that I don’t miss the old piles of “sort of important” papers, and it’s great that my classroom is becoming a more dynamic space. Even though it doesn’t look “awesome” there is a lot of student learning at the draft stage on display right now:

photo(2)But most importantly, simply spending a significant amount of time as a student has made a huge impact on how I teach. The biggest example of this is that I have remembered how helpful immediate and focused feedback is for a learner. My current instructor usually finishes grading assignments within 48 hours: that’s a tough act to follow! To improve the way I deliver feedback, I have moved almost all of my assessments into Google Docs, where I can provide focused feedback by using comments. I can even provide detailed rubric feedback combining the Google Apps script Doctopus with Goobric. And last week I used the Flubaroo script to grade a formative quiz moments after students submitted it.

I’m not sure what is coming next on my journey. But I am definitely excited to see where my current projects take me!